On April 11, 2015, at the Association of Art Historians annual conference, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, the panel “Subversive Practices and Imagined Realities in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe since 1945” examined the manner in which artists created their own parallel worlds, utopias, dystopias, and fantastic domains. Organized by myself, Amy Bryzgel, and Andrea Euringer-Bátorová, it consisted of five fantastic papers by speakers from a range of backgrounds and disciplines.
My co-chair of the session, Andrea Euringer-Bátorová (Researcher, Academy of Fine Art and Design, Bratislava) introduced the panel by discussing three types of subversive practices: direct confrontation with uniformed persons (police officers or guards), direct confrontation with symbols and signs of the communist regime, and confrontation with monuments, suggesting the use of Pierre Bourdieu as a conceptual frame for discussing the manner in which these artists position themselves. I also provided an introduction by providing examples of “alternative” or “parallel” realities developed by artists in Romania (Bureau of Melodramatic Research), Bulgaria (Vera Mlechevska and Dimitar Shopov) and Moldova (Mark Verlan and Pavel Braila), and considered the manner in which these projects perform presence (absent or desired), according the writings of Hans Gumbrecht.
Ruth Addison (International Publications Advisor, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow) discussed the lesser-known nonconformist artist and teacher Vasily Sitnikov, an outsider among the outsider: “Very little has been written about Sitnikov, despite the fact that every artist-contemporary seems to have a story about him.”
Katalin Cseh-Varga’s (research assistant and PhD candidate at the Graduate School of East and Southeast European Studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University and lecturer at the Department of Theatre, Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna) paper explored the manner in which Hungarian artists used the fake, the pseudo, and fiction to hold a mirror against the “ ‘falsifying propaganda museum’ and create their own possibilities for autonomous action.” The work of these artists operates in the interstices between the real and the fake, the original and the copy.
Kristóf Nagy (postgraduate student, Courtauld Institute of Art) discussed another artist/political activist who was on the margins of the margins, György Krassó, probing the question: were Krassó’s actions unable to “achieve their political goals because they used an artistic expression,” or, were they “transformed to art because they were not successful politically and were not recognized as political acts?”
Micha Braun’s (PhD in Theatre Studies, University of Leipzig) paper, Practices of Repetition and Imitation in Eastern European Performative Arts in the 1970s and ’80s, examined the work of Russian and Polish action artist groups, such as Gnezdo and Orange Alternative, viewing it through the lens of Tadeusz Kantor’s idea that one has to “repeat reality to get in contact with it.”
Finally, Bojan Baća (PhD candidate in Sociology, York University, Toronto) presented his research and analysis of the protests (both physical and visual) organized by the inhabitants of Berane, a small town in northern Montenegro, against the regional waste disposal landfill that was polluting their town. In their attempt to be heard, they made themselves seen, by blockading the dump and creating photoshopped images of Port Berane, a fictional and beautiful town that provided an alternative to the current reality.
We were all pleased that contemporary art from Eastern Europe had substantial representation at AAH this year, as the day before our panel, Klara Kemp-Welch and Beata Hock hosted a panel entitled "After the Great War/After the Cold War. Nations, Identities and Art Histories in Central Europe." Both panels were well-attended by those with a keen interest in contemporary art from Eastern Europe. Some had traveled from as far away as Los Angeles to attend these sessions!
I am pleased to announce that I hope to carry the baton by chairing a session at the Association of Art Historians annual conference in 2016 in Edinburgh, entitled "Artistic Re-enactments as Vehicles of Cultural Transfer in Eastern European Performance Art, 1960-present." Please submit an abstract and join me in Edinburgh in April 2016!